What’s In Store for 2014

2014 plans

The question on everyone’s mind is:  Are we going to do another year of New Experiences?

And the answer is….. (Drumroll, please.)

Sort of.

After 3 years of planning and doing New Experiences, it is time for a change.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the project.  It literally changed my outlook on life.  In late 2010, I was depressed after going through a divorce.  I felt like I had no control over my life.  Things were happening to me, but I was doing nothing to make things I wanted happen.  I needed a change.  I did not have the means or ability to fly to Italy, India, or Indonesia like Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat, Pray, Love.  I had two preschoolers at home and very little free time.  I craved the excitement of my youth, but responsibility kept me home.  I was determined to love my life again.  I had two evenings a week and every other weekend to myself.  Instead of wallowing in my depression, I decided to try something new.

Actually, I tried 52 new things, and found myself feeling happier than ever.  I decided in 2012 that I would include my children in the project.  I wanted them to try as many new experiences as possible.  We had an amazing year, so we continued the project for 2013.

2013 was also a great year, but it was a year of big change.  Leah entered kindergarten, and I returned to my career in teaching again.  Finding time for New Experiences was a challenge.  Sometimes I felt stressed that we wouldn’t have enough time to try something new.  But, I am glad that we stuck with our plan.  The New Experiences project was all about finding time to be together and have fun as a family.  We only completed 50 experiences in 2013, but we definitely spent quality time together and had fun.

I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop trying New Experiences.  Getting out of my comfort zone and teaching my children to  try something new has become a way of life.  

However, for 2014, our goal will be less ambitious.  We are going to try one New Experience together every month.  We’ll spend some time on things I call “Experiences Worth Repeating”.  We want to revisit some of the things we really enjoyed over the course of our project.  The only downside to our New Experiences project was that we were so focused on trying something new that we didn’t have time to repeat the ones we loved.  Swimming in a lake, bouncing at a trampoline place, and  launching model rockets are things we look forward to trying again in 2014.

I hope you’ll join us for another year of New Experiences!  We’d also love to hear about what you are planning to do this year!

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A Look Back at 2013

by the numberWe really enjoyed our second year of trying new experiences as a family.  Here is a look back at 2013 in numbers.

50:  New Experiences.  We were so close to reaching our goal of trying 52 New Experiences.  The Type A side of me really wanted to complete two new experiences on December 31, just so I could brag that we reached our goal.  The more relaxed side of me is at peace with the number of experiences we completed.  It’s not easy to find the time to experience new things, especially since I work full-time and share custody with my ex-husband.  However, the kids and I made the most of the time we spent together in 2013.  I am proud of that!

28:  Free Experiences.  More than half of our new experiences were free or were completed with items we already had in our home.  One of our favorite experiences was playing Frisbee Golf in a park.  “Hunting for Tigers” at Princeton University was another fun way to spend an afternoon.

21:  Outdoor Experiences.  We love to be outdoors whenever we can.  Nearly half of our experiences were done outdoors.  Canoeing in the summer and visiting the beach in winter were some of our favorite experiences all year.

17: Experiences Done at Home.  We didn’t even need to leave our house to complete about a third of our New Experiences.  One of Leah’s favorite activities this year was tie-dying T-shirts, and our messy play date was a hit with the kids and their friends.

11: Experiences Done Out of State.  On the other hand, we traveled to Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. for some experiences.  Our double-decker tour of New York City was exciting, and we loved Amish Country so much that the kids can’t wait to return.

11:  Science Activities.  All of us enjoy science, and science experiments have been some of the most fun experiences this year.  I thought it would be hard to top the explosion that Mentos and Soda create, so I was happily surprised that creating the Simplest Circuit was also a success.

9:  Cultural Activities.  I hope to raise children who appreciate art, music, and history, so I make an effort to expose them to various cultural activities during the year.  Creating their own Mosaic Art was a huge hit with the kids.  They also enjoyed a historical reenactment at Jockey Hollow.

8: Experiences We Enjoyed With Our Extended Family.  I am very close to my family, so I am happy that we were able to include them in some of our experiences this year.  Our ride on a surrey in Ocean City was a memorable experience for the whole family.  And, I’m not sure who enjoyed launching a model rocket more– my kids or my dad!

7:  Number of Experiences that Involved Eating.  Believe it or not, trying new foods was way out of some of our comfort zones.  The kids surprised me by eating just about everything at a Vietnamese restaurant.  However, Luke was not as adventurous during a pie-eating contest.  He did have fun, but we learned he likes his pie with a fork!

1:  Fabulous Year!  Not all of the New Experiences went as planned, but they were certainly a lot of fun!

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New Experience #50: Glass Fusing

glass fusing“Glass fusing?  What in America is that?”

Those were Luke’s exact words when I suggested we try glass fusing as New Experience #50 this year.

When I told the kids that it was similar to our mosaic making experience from earlier this year, they were excited.  I knew they would be.  They talked about the Pottery Painting place for weeks after we tried it, and we never had the opportunity to go back since our experience over the summer.

When we arrived at Glassworks Studio in Morristown, New Jersey, we were greeted by an employee who explained how to make a project.  She showed us the selection of projects to choose, where to find the shards of glass and the pieces of glass “spaghetti” to use, and how to glue each piece down.

glass fusing projectThe kids each picked out a small ornament to decorate.   They really concentrated on their work.  Luke was done quickly, but as he waited for Leah to finish her project, he kept finding another piece of glass to add.  By the time Leah was finally done, Luke must have added at least 10 more pieces of glass!

Both kids really enjoyed making their projects.  Placing the glass pieces in a design was pretty much the same process as making a mosaic.  Only the result will differ.  We had to grout the mosaic project, but this project will be placed in a kiln.  The glass will melt together to create a smooth effect.  We’ll pick the finished products up in about a week. The kids can’t wait to see how their ornaments turn out.  Neither can I!

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also like:

New Experience #33:  Mosaic Art

New Experience #27:  Messy Play Date

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New Experience #49: The Beach in Winter

winter at the beachOn the first day of winter, we tried something we do all the time in summer but never in winter.  We went to the beach!

It was sunny and unseasonably warm (about 57 degrees by the shore), so it was a perfect day to try this new experience.  When we got to Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in Long Branch, New Jersey, the parking lot was practically empty.  Since I have only been there in the middle of summer when the line of cars waiting to get in stretches down the street, it was a welcome sight.

When we walked onto the sand, it felt as though we had the entire beach to ourselves.  There were two surfers walking in the distance, and a family standing on the boardwalk.  But, we were the only ones who laid out a blanket and sat for a while.  The kids dug holes and build a small castle while I laid on the blanket and listened to the surf.  Glorious.

We walked down to the water to get a glimpse of the wave crashing on the sand.  Luke, who is normally very cautious, decided to run up to the water.  He wound up soaking his pant legs up to his knees.  He thought I would be mad, but I was just concerned that he would be cold.  He assured me he was fine.

beach in winterLeah took off her shoes and did cartwheels in the sand.  Luke and I walked on the jetty, looking at the barnacles clinging to the sides of the rocks.  All three of us looked for shells. Since the beach is not combed in the winter, we found lots of beautiful shells- many more than we typically find in the summer.  Leah decided to dip her toes in the water, too.

Right before we left, I decided to put my feet in the ocean.  I thought it would be a good way to get out of my comfort zone.  Going in the ocean at the Jersey Shore is not something I enjoy doing even in summer.  I do not like cold water, and the Atlantic is too cold for my taste, even in the middle of August.  I rolled up my pants and walked in up to my ankles.  The cold water was shocking.  My feet were numb within seconds.

I ran out of the water as the kids laughed at the way I screamed.  I also laughed as I yelled, “Why didn’t you warn me how awful this water is?”

Luke confessed his feet were still uncomfortably cold.  I was incredulous.  I felt terrible that we had stayed on the beach for at least half an hour after he got his legs wet.  I asked why he didn’t tell me.  He admitted that he was afraid we would have to go home.  He was having so much fun that he didn’t want to leave.

We stopped for hot cocoa on the way home, and all of us warmed up quite a bit.  I think we will visit the beach in winter again, but I doubt any of us will put our feet in the water!

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New Experiences #46-48: Holiday Lights and Music– Both Humble and Spectacular

holiday concertChristmas is so much fun when you have children.  They really do make the season seem so much more magical.  I try to feed into their enthusiasm and find activities that we will all enjoy.

The day after Thanksgiving, we drove to Schaefer Farms in Flemington, New Jersey to see the Holiday Lights display.  It only took about 15 minutes for us to drive through the farm’s display of Christmas lights, but we really enjoyed it.  Some of the lights twinkled in sync to the music we had tuned into on the radio.  The kids enjoyed the reindeer display in which the reindeer appeared to be flying.  It was a simple, but fun activity for a cold winter’s night.

The next holiday activity we enjoyed was a concert at our local library.  An ensemble played Christmas music with a Celtic flair.  I loved it, and the kids liked it better than I thought they would.  Luke leaned over during the concert and said, “Mom, they are really good because they are professionals!”  We listened for nearly an hour before Leah’s attention drifted.  I was actually really impressed my children could stay quiet for so long. I might buy some Celtic music to play in our own home in hopes of having some quiet time!

Christmas SpectacularThe most recent holiday activity was our trip to New York City to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.  It is a good thing we saw the lights display and library concert before this show because nothing could measure up to this one.  Seeing this show was a first for me, and my expectations were exceeded.  From the talented Rockettes to the dancing Santas to the living Nativity complete with camels, the show was non-stop action. It lived up to its spectacular name.

I know I only have a few more years of such Christmas magic, so I intend to make the most of every holiday activity we do.  While our New Experiences are very exciting, the traditions of the season are the most meaningful to me.  I wish all of my readers a merry Christmas!

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also like:

New Experience #50:  A New York City Christmas

New Experience #18:  Double Decker Tour of New York City

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New Experience #45: Saw Washington Cross the Delaware

washington crossingWe already went a historical reenactment this year, but when I found out that we could watch Washington cross the Delaware River last weekend, I could not pass up the opportunity.  The kids loved the last historical reenactment we went to and the crossing of the Delaware is such an important part of the American Revolution that I thought it would be a great educational experience.

So, we set out for the reenactment despite a weather forecast calling for snow.  The reenactment started at 2:00, but there was going to be a little festival beforehand that I thought we’d enjoy. We drove for about half an hour when it started to snow.  Little flakes swirled around and looked so delicate from the car window.   We arrived at Washington Crossing State Park in Hopewell, New Jersey an hour before the event.  We quickly learned that I was confused and in the wrong place.  We needed to be in Washington Crossing Historic Park on the other side of the river in Pennsylvania.  Who knew one little word could lead me miles from our intended destination?

As we drove down a scenic river road and across a narrow bridge, the snow started falling harder.  By the time we reached the correct park, it was no longer just a flurry.  We were also not as early as I had hoped we would be.  In fact, we were just in time.

washington crossing delawareWe could hear announcements as we walked from our car to the river’s edge.  We practically ran to site just as the announcer began to explain the story of the famous crossing.

The snow was coming down pretty hard, and we were freezing standing there.  The kids commented on how cold it was, but even they realized how much colder the soldiers must have been.  Many were not wearing coats and had tied rags around their arms and legs to keep warm.  We learned that at the time of the crossing Washington was practically begging the Continental Congress for more supplies as some of his men did not even have shoes.  Morale was very low.

We learned that on the night of December 25, 1776, large chunks of ice were floating in the river, making the crossing very difficult.  However, the crossing was successful and Washington’s army marched south to surprise the Hessians.  The Battle of Trenton ensued and the patriots won, improving morale for the soldiers.

We didn’t stay for the little festival, but the reenactment was worth the confusing drive.  I had seen the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, but I don’t think my children have.  I am glad they saw this reenactment first because it was more realistic and truer to history.  The boats were larger than the painting, the flag was different, and the river is not nearly as wide as it is depicted.  But, I hope that seeing the reenactors in their thin clothes on the bank of the river will be a memory that stays with my children.  So many people fought for our freedom, and none of us should ever forget that.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also like:

New Experience #15: Historical Reenactment

New Experience #20: Visited George Washington’s Headquarters


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New Experience #44: Watched a Robotics Competition

first lego league

When I saw that a local high school was hosting a robotics competition, I immediately thought this would be a great New Experience for all of us.  As an educator, I know how important STEM activities are.  (That’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics for those of you not down with the lingo of our children’s generation.)  Our children will need to be proficient in STEM if they want to compete in the global market as adults.  It is imperative that they become comfortable with these activities at a young age.

But that is not why I took the kids to the competition.  I took them because I want them to see that STEM activities are FUN.  (That’s the F word to many people in education these days.)  We don’t need testing or drill-and-kill activities for STEM.  Robotics competitions are a fabulous educational activity for kids.

We had no idea what to expect from this competition. When we walked in, we saw two tables set up with Lego creations.  The difference between these creations and the ones my kids create at home is that these were robotic.  The participants programmed them to move in certain ways.

first lego leagueThere was little information available, so we talked to some of the participants who were waiting for their turn.  We were also able to get a close look at the projects they created.  This competition was a First Lego League tournament.  The league posed a problem about a natural disaster and each team had to create a solution to prepare or rebuild from the disaster.

Luke and Leah enjoyed watching the little Lego robots move when their owners clicked a button on their laptops.  I don’t think my kids really understood all the work that went into the programming because they only saw the end result.

We walked over to the competition, but there was no one who was available to explain what was going on.  It was hard for us to understand the points system and the competition.  But it was easy for us to see the passion the middle school teams had for their projects.  They were dancing, screaming, and jumping up and down as their robots competed.  It had all the excitement of a sporting event.

We only stayed about 45 minutes, but I think this New Experience was well worth it for the kids.  They saw that STEM could be fun.  They saw that people value competitions of the mind.  But, most importantly, they came home and immediately got to work on a new Lego creation!

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New Experience #43: MagiQuest

MagiQuest at Great Wolf LodgeWe spent a night at Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos.  It is a resort designed for kids– indoor water park, arcade, kid-friendly restaurants.  They even have a spa for kids (but don’t tell Leah about that, please!).  The entire place has a lodge motif, but there is nothing outdoorsy or natural about the place.  They don’t encourage any kind of activity outside the building.

I don’t usually love such artificial places, but I have to admit this place was fun.  As soon as we walked into the indoor water park, the kids were in heaven.  There were kiddie slides, a wave pool, a huge structure with sprinklers and buckets coming out of it, and lots of full size water slides.

We had a great time in the water park, but we were anxious to try the scavenger hunt called MagiQuest.  Kids seemed to be running all over the lobby with magic wands and looking for treasures.  We needed to join the fun!

When we walked into the gift shop, I was in for sticker shock.  Each wand was $17 and up.  Once you added in the price of the game, it came to $34.  The kids wanted their own wands and games, but I told them they needed to share.  If they want to go to college one day, I can’t spend every dime I have on games and fun!

My decision was purely financial, but it turned out to be a good one for the sake of the game.  The way the game works is the player reads a clue and has to find the treasure box, painting, or map that will lead them to the next clue.  If we had two wands and I paid for two games, we would just have to listen to the same clue twice.  The second person’s turn would be irrelevant.

MagiQuest2In the beginning, we were all having a great time.  My kids both love scavenger hunts, and I do, too.  But, my patience was the first to wear down.  We had been playing for about 45 minutes when I was no longer interested in continuing.  The game itself was fun, but it was too crowded.  We often had to wait for a turn at the treasure boxes.  The resort is huge, but the game is condensed into a few short hallways.  I suppose they did that to contain the crowds, but it often felt like we were walking in circles.  Even Luke, who was really enjoying the game, said, “Mom, we just walked up and down that same staircase about 100 times!”

We played for about another 45 minutes when Leah’s patience also began to wear down.  She started to complain that she was tired of walking up and down the same hallways over and over again.  I agreed with her, but Luke wanted to keep going.  I tried to be fair to both of them, so we took a break for hot cocoa.  After we drank our cocoa, Leah was uninterested in starting up again.  Luke couldn’t wait to get back into the game.  I felt the same as Leah, but I didn’t want to disappoint Luke and I had just paid an arm and a leg for a game.  I felt like we should get our money’s worth!

So, we continued to play.  After a half hour, Leah was whining again, and my patience was worn thin.  We ended the game.  Luke cried because we did not finish the entire quest.  I felt guilty because Luke was having so much fun, but I had to be fair to Leah, too.  She had just played for over 2 hours and really didn’t enjoy the second half of it.

Overall, it was a fun new experience, but a little too long for two of us.  I wish I would have realized that the game takes over 3 hours to play.  Had I known that, we would have split it up over two days.  Oh well… I am sure we’ll do that the next time we visit Great Wolf Lodge!

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New Experience #42: Dissected An Owl Pellet

dissecting an owl pelletI share an Amazon Prime account with my sister, so she finds out about my purchases very soon after I make them.  When she saw that I ordered a set of owl pellets, she said we might have to separate our accounts.  In the past year, I’ve ordered a meditation bowl, ladybug larvae, caterpillars, a ladder ball game and now owl pellets.  My sister typically orders birthday presents, diapers, and air filters.  When you put our purchases together, we upset Amazon’s algorithm for recommendations.  We are getting all kinds of weird featured recommendations in odd combinations.  The last time I logged on, Amazon recommended a Frog Dissection Kit, a Diaper Genie refill, and a Scrabble Dictionary… not a typical combination!

But back to New Experience #42:

I thought it would be a great experience to dissect an owl pellet- a combination of nature and biology.  An owl pellet is the undigested parts of an owl’s food.   When an owl hunts, it swoops down and swallows a small mammal in one gulp.  Since it has no teeth, it doesn’t chew the food.  It digests the animal in its stomach.  Whatever it cannot digest, it coughs up in a pellet.  So, an owl pellet is usually made up of the fur and bones of a small mammal.

Disgusting. But also fascinating… a great New Experience in my opinion!

owl pellet dissectionArmed with latex gloves and the little wooden sticks that came with the kit, we started to dissect the pellets.  Leah was not excited about this task.  She kept complaining that this was “horrible”.  I told her that once she saw the little bones, she might be more interested.

Luke was also disgusted, but he was interested in finding the bones. I think it was a bit of a treasure hunt for him.  He became very animated whenever he found a new bone.

The pellets did not disappoint.  We found at least 40 bones between the two pellets, including 2 skulls that were completely intact.  Using the little guidebook that came with the dissection kit, we were able to identify a few of the bones as skulls and femurs of voles.  Most of the other bones were too small or too broken to identify at all.

owl pellet dissection 3Luke really enjoyed this activity and is looking forward to dissecting the extra pellet we have.  Leah never really came around to enjoying this activity.  I was hoping she would think it was interesting once the pellets were pulled apart and she could see the bones, but she was still pretty disgusted.  Not every New Experience we try is a big hit with both kids, but this one was definitely educational!

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also like:

New Experience #10: Debunked An Urban Myth

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New Experience #41: Central Park Zoo

NYC Central ParkThere is no better way to spend a day in New York City than walking around Central Park.  I like to walk and people watch, and my children love to spend time in one of the many playgrounds.  We’ve been to Central Park at least half a dozen times and had never been to the zoo.  Actually, we had never even seen the zoo.  Central Park is just so big!

So, on a glorious fall afternoon, we set out for the Central Park Zoo.

As soon as we walked in, we saw the sea lions swimming in a pool.  Colorful foliage and skyscrapers painted a dramatic backdrop.  We watched the sea lions swim in circles and jump out of the water.  The kids were amused, but I was upset.  The tank seemed outrageously small for such large mammals.

We walked over to the penguin house.  It was dark and crowded, a combination of situations that can send a mother into panic mode.  I am fortunate to have children who are as cautious as I am in crowded places, so we stuck together.

The penguins were really playful and curious.  They swam right up to the glass and looked into our faces.  Once again, the kids were delighted, but it seemed like too small a space for so many penguins.

at the zooWe took a break from the outdoor portion of the zoo to watch a 4-D movie called Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.  It was hilarious to me, but this time it was Leah who was horrified.  When one of the characters “sneezed”, we were sprayed with water.  Leah was revolted, and I don’t think she believed me when I told her it was just water!

After the movie, we spent about a half an hour looking at the red pandas, rain forest exhibit, and the snow leopards.  We made our way to the small children’s zoo.  They had a petting area, but readers of this blog know my kids are not ones to enjoy petting animals. Instead, they had fun leaping from lily pads, climbing in spider webs, and posing in animal statues.  It was like a giant playground to them.  We could have spent an hour in there, but it was closing time.

Overall, it was a great afternoon in the zoo. I prefer larger zoos that keep animals in more natural and larger environments, so I don’t think we’ll return.  However, we did have a great day in the city.  Next time, we’ll stick to people watching and climbing in Central Park’s playgrounds.

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